The ability to engage, influence and inspire people is crucial, and storytelling can be your ally.
An experiment about “the identifiable victim effect” was conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 to explore the difference between a fact-based approach and a story-based approach in influencing people. The study showed that students who received a fact-based appeal from Save the Children donated $1.14, whereas students who read a story about a specific child donated an average of $2.38, more than twice as much.
Additionally, if you watch this TED talk by Hans Rosling, you will see how a topic as data-heavy as 60 years of world health data can be made engaging and engrossing through storytelling.
The message is clear: Storytelling can help build your credibility, initiate change, inspire teams and engage people.
Here are four tips that you can leverage to become a great storyteller.
Tip 1: Telling The Right Story
In my opinion, telling the right story is about two things: knowing your objective and ensuring audience relevance. Let me explain how that works.
Is your goal to introduce yourself? Or do you need to influence someone? Or are you trying to foster collaboration? Knowing your objective will help you be clear on whose story you are sharing. If you’re introducing yourself, the story must be about you—your experiences, your journey. A classic story structure for this goal is “the hero’s journey,” which Joseph Campbell describes in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Once you have a pattern, it’s about crafting the journey. Regardless of the pattern, each story must have a protagonist, a dilemma/problem to solve, a resolution and an outcome/learning.
So it’s not just about telling a story; it’s about telling the right story.
Tip 2: Stories Of Personal Failure
The reality is that since we were kids, we have been told that failure and mistakes are signs of weakness.
Many leaders attempt to inspire people by sharing stories of past successes—but countless examples show us that stories of failure can inspire people, too.
Take for example J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech, where she inspires the graduates through her story of failure. Here’s an oft-quoted excerpt from this speech that illustrates the power of a well-chosen personal anecdote: “…by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
In my opinion, stories of failure can have a much deeper and more powerful impact on inspiring people than success stories because people relate to failure and it invokes deeper emotions like empathy, compelling them to take action.
Tip 3: The Stories We Tell Ourselves
One of the opening statements in my own company’s storytelling workshops is: “The stories you tell yourself stop you from telling the stories you must!”
You could have the most amazing story, but you may hesitate to share it. Internal stories like “Why would anyone want to hear my story?” or “What if people don’t like it?” are big obstacles for many of us. Psychologists refer to these feelings as a “fear of negative evaluation” (FNE), which they’ve quantified through an assessment they also call FNE. A high score on this scale is more likely to lead an individual to perceive their attempt at public speaking, for instance, as poor.
Replacing hindering internal stories with positive ones can transform and influence your external storytelling.
Here is a quick exercise I use in my courses to help change a harmful internal narrative: Ask yourself to think of a situation where you felt you were being negatively judged but later realized it was all in your head. As you think of this incident, “amplify” the feeling of relief you felt when you figured out that your perception of the situation was worse than it actually was. There you go—you are beginning to change the story you tell yourself!
Tip 4: The Art Of Starting
How you begin a story matters. Let me share three sure-fire ways my company has developed to help you get your audience hooked from the first sentence you say:
• Intrigue: You don’t always have to start the story from the beginning; instead try starting from the most impactful, emotional or compelling part of your story, and then go back to the beginning. This will keep your audience truly intrigued.
• Question: The most powerful thing a question does is compel your audience to think. So ask a rhetorical question, pause for a few seconds and then answer it yourself!
• Visuals: Another great way to start a story is to show an image and use that as the foundation for your narrative.
In the world of business, storytelling is more than a skill; it’s a superpower. By applying these four secrets, you can not only engage, inspire and influence but also establish yourself as a thought leader in the art of storytelling.
Would you like to know more about how your organisation can leverage Storytelling for business success? Read more about our Storytelling module.
Write to us to at firstname.lastname@example.org to elevate your storytelling game.